A hotel worker who took leave after the unexpected death of her father has been awarded more than $20,000 in lost wages and compensation after it was found she was then unjustifiably dismissed.
Kylie Stevenson-Wright worked at Hotel Chatham on the remote island off the coast of New Zealand as a bar and restaurant worker from 2015 to 2017.
In October 2017 Stevenson-Wright's father suffered a heart attack in New Zealand and was on life support. He subsequently passed away.
The sole director of Hotel Chatham, Toni Croon, granted bereavement leave to Stevenson-Wright from October 16 to 30. Her first day back at work after the period of leave was recorded as October 31, 2017.
Stevenson-Wright flew to New Zealand to be with her family where there was a private cremation but no service. Instead, it was decided there would be a "celebration of life" for her father.
The celebration was to be attended by friends and family in New Zealand and overseas and would be held on November 5, 2017 - the date coincided with what would have been the man's 70th birthday.
The ERA heard that Stevenson-Wright left a telephone message with the office at the Chathams Hotel asking if she could extend her leave to attend her father's celebration but received no response.
Croon said that she did not receive a message.
There were further messages between the pair and then on November 1 Croon advised Stevenson-Wright that whilst she sympathised she could not authorise any additional leave.
It was too short notice, she said, and the hotel was understaffed.
Croon rostered the woman on for a November 4 shift (the day before her father's celebration) and she was expected to attend that shift.
Stevenson-Wright wrote back stating she did not want to "defy employment obligations" but could not miss her "father's final farewell".
She wrote that she understood her decision may result in disciplinary action and Croon may seek to dismiss her and referred to her service with the hotel and her reliability.
She wrote that she would be flying in on Wednesday November 8, 2017, so that she could be on the roster from Thursday if Croon still wanted her to work at the hotel.
Stevenson-Wright wrote again on November 6 to see if the message had been received and asked if there would be a disciplinary process.
Croon replied and asked to see Stevenson-Wright on her return and said the "roster would be changed to fit her in".
Stevenson-Wright intended to fly back on November 8 but was dizzy and unwell at the airport and said she couldn't fly. She said she asked a friend to inform Croon but this didn't happen.
Instead, she arrived back on the Chatham Islands on Friday November 10, 2017, in the evening.
After several messages between the pair, they met on November 20.
Stevenson-Wright said after the meeting it was clear she had been dismissed from Hotel Chatham. She wrote an email to Croon confirming the main points.
• She had been informed that because it took her four days to get in touch on her return to the island she had been replaced with someone else.
• When she reminded Croon she had a permanent agreement Croon "just shrugged".
• She was told "it was an abandonment of employment".
Croon did not respond to the letter.
The ERA found that if Stevenson-Wright had not been dismissed at the November 20, 2017, meeting, then a fair and reasonable employer would have communicated promptly with her to keep the relationship on foot.
Croon denied there was an actual dismissal. However, she knew that Stevenson-Wright believed she had been dismissed from her email.
Because Croon did not correct that misunderstand "she suffers the consequences of that inaction" the ERA said.
Her failure to communicate within a reasonable timeframe after Stevenson-Wright believed she had been dismissed on November 20, 2017, amounted to a dismissal.
Stevenson-Wright was left with no accommodation, no job prospects, and no financial resources when she was dealing with the unexpected loss of her father, she said.
The ERA found Hotel Chathams Limited unjustifiably dismissed Kylie Stevenson-Wright
from her employment and ordered it to pay $9,012.80 in lost wages and $12,000 compensation.